Throughout months of rising tensions between Kim Jong Un’s North Korean regime and a consortium of foreign nations led by the United States, one question has loomed like a dark cloud over the diplomatic effort to avoid war: can sanctions actually affect any real change? A new series of sanctions making their way to a security council vote on Friday may finally answer that question once and for all.
New sanctions that may soon be adopted by the United Nations would see a ban on nearly all oil imports into the nation (previously limited to 2 million barrels per year) as well as a ban on exported labor, a significant revenue source for Kim’s regime. These sanctions may well be the final straw that forces Kim to the negotiating table… but what signs do we have that sanctions work at all?
While there are clear indicators that the economic sanctions in place, levied by both the United States and the United Nations, have had a significant effect on the day-to-day lives of North Koreans, it’s also clear that they have thus far failed to inhibit Kim’s pursuit of banned ballistic missile platforms or continued nuclear weapons testing.
The November launch of the Hwasong-15, North Korea’s most advanced ICBM platform to date, proved unequivocally that the near-two month lull in missile testing was not a show of good will, but rather a momentary focus on North Korea’s harvest season – a season of even greater importance than usual amid the aforementioned sanctions. Further, satellite images taken recently show ongoing excavations at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site buried beneath Mount Mantap. This work suggests Kim has plans for subsequent detonations, despite growing international concerns that the mountain itself may not be able to survive further testing.